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Colorado—known as "The Centennial State" because it gained statehood in 1876 on the 100th anniversary of U.S. independence-- has the highest average altitude of any of the 50 states. The Rocky Mountains cover a huge large portion of the state, resulting in the mean elevation of Colorado being a staggering 6,800 feet! Thus, Colorado is world-renown for breathtaking scenery and world-class skiing. But sadly it's becoming known for something more sinister-a growing alcohol and drug addiction crisis.
Colorado boasts a comfortable average annual income level--$68,811 as of 2018-- and given its relative wealth, it would be tempting to think that it had been spared the scourge of drug addiction that has ravaged poorer states, but this isn't the case. Each year, roughly 117,000 Coloradans (over the age of 12) report being dependent on or abusing illicit drugs. And, in a 2014 study, Colorado had 1,035 or more individuals (per 100,000) admitted to treatment for alcohol abuse as the primary drug of choice. Despite being well-off in terms of resources, Colorado drug and alcohol abuse continues to rise at an alarming rate.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's quite complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. Over 60,000 overdoses occurred nationwide in 2016, with nearly 175 people dying daily. Drug overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents and guns. These numbers increase every year. Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted. In fact in some cases, wealthy people can be thrown into poverty as a direct result of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Colorado like an unstoppable blizzard, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In Colorado, 564 opioid-involved overdose deaths (a rate of 9.5) were reported in 2018. Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's a malady that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2018, Colorado providers wrote 45.1 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people!
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Colorado youth, and the numbers are concerning:
36% of high school students report they've used marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times in their lifetime.
5% of Colorado high school students report they've used any form of cocaine (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of Colorado youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for Colorado residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Centennial State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Colorado State Facts
Colorado Population: 4,301,072
Law Enforcement Officers in Colorado: 11,807
Colorado Prison Population: 28,800
Colorado Probation Population: 55,218
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 27
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Colorado
Cocaine: 36.0 kgs.
Heroin: 4.6 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 28.8 kgs.
Marijuana: 774.6 kgs.
Ecstasy: 0 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 118 (DEA, state, and local)
Colorado Drug Situation: Mexican poly-drug trafficking organizations control most of the methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin distribution in Colorado. The majority of club drug distribution is conducted by independent traffickers and loosely-knit organizations with various sources of supply, both overseas and within the United States. Street gangs with ties to larger criminal organizations in Texas, California, and Mexico are involved in all types of drug distribution throughout the state.
Cocaine in Colorado: Enforcement activities reflect a steady supply of cocaine coming into and through Colorado. Cocaine trafficking organizations with sources of supply in Mexico or along the Southwest Border often deal in multi-kilogram amounts. Crack is available in the larger metropolitan areas of Colorado, generally in street level amounts.
Heroin in Colorado: Mexican black tar heroin is the predominant type of heroin found in Colorado and is available in the major metropolitan areas of Colorado. Mexican brown heroin is also found to a lesser degree. Various law enforcement and treatment indicators suggest that heroin availability and use may be on the rise in Colorado.
Methamphetamine in Colorado: Most of the methamphetamine available in Colorado originates in Mexico or comes from large-scale laboratories in California. In recent years, the potency of methamphetamine produced in Mexico has risen to levels comparable to that made in smaller, local clandestine laboratories. Clandestine laboratories are problematic to law enforcement in Colorado, due more to the public safety and environmental issues they present than the volume of methamphetamine they produce. The ephedrine/pseudoephedrine reduction method is the primary means of manufacturing methamphetamine in Colorado. Most clandestine laboratory operators are able to procure precursor chemicals from legitimate businesses such as discount stores, drug stores, chemical supply companies, and agricultural supply stores.
Club Drugs in Colorado: The category of substances known as “club drugs” is most often associated with nightclubs and private parties. DEA investigations indicate that violence, pornography, and prostitution often play key roles in club drug trafficking and abuse. MDMA generally is distributed by independent traffickers or loosely-knit organizations with both domestic and foreign sources of supply. LSD, Ketamine, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) are also distributed and used in the nightclub scene.
Marijuana in Colorado: Marijuana is available throughout Colorado, and is the most widely abused drug in the state. The most abundant supply of marijuana is Mexican-grown and is brought into and through Colorado by poly-drug trafficking organizations. The highly potent form of marijuana known as “BC Bud” is significantly more expensive, and is smuggled from British Columbia, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. Colorado’s Amendment 20, which took effect June 1, 2001, allows for the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana for sick and dying patients. It provides protection against prosecution under state law, which is where the majority of marijuana small-use and possession cases occur.
Other Drugs in Colorado: Pharmaceutical opiates/opioids are the drugs of choice among drug abusing medical professionals in Colorado. Hydrocodone (Vicodin) and Darvocet are the two controlled substances most commonly abused, with various forms of prescription fraud and retail diversion being the methods for obtaining them. The diversion and abuse of OxyContin (oxycodone) is a significant problem in Colorado.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been 19 Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) deployments in the State of Colorado since the inception of the program: Lakewood, Durango, Edgewater, Avon, Eagle/Garfield Counties, Pueblo (2), La Plata County, Longmont, El Paso County, Englewood, Jefferson County (2), San Luis Valley, Adams County, and four separate deployments in Denver.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Colorado.
Other Enforcement Operations in Colorado: A 2003 Denver MET deployment, which assisted a local task force in the investigation of a Denver area Mexican methamphetamine trafficking organization, resulted in the arrests of 21 individuals and the seizure of 9 pounds of methamphetamine. The methamphetamine seized and purchased through undercover buys was consistently in excess of 90 percent pure.
Special Topics: In 1996, a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) was designated in Colorado and is comprised of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, Eagle, El Paso, Garfield, Grand, Jefferson, LaPlata, Larimer, Pueblo, Mesa, Moffat, Routt, and Weld counties.